US Intelligence Operatives in Libya, Before a Finding, Sounds Like JSOC

Mark Hosenball, who yesterday broke the news that Obama had issued a Finding authorizing the CIA to operate covertly in Libya in the last 2-3 weeks, today says “intelligence operatives” were on the ground before Obama signed that Finding.

U.S. intelligence operatives were on the ground in Libya before President Barack Obama signed a secret order authorizing covert support for anti-Gaddafi rebels, U.S. government sources told Reuters.The CIA personnel were sent in to contact opponents of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and assess their capabilities, two U.S. officials said.


The president — who said in a speech on Monday “that we would not put ground troops into Libya” — has legal authority to send U.S. intelligence personnel without having to sign a covert action order, current and former U.S. officials said.

Within the last two or three weeks, Obama did sign a secret “finding” authorizing the CIA to pursue a broad range of covert activities in support of the rebels.

Congressional intelligence committees would have been informed of the order, which the officials said came after some CIA personnel were already inside Libya.

Now, one explanation for this is simply that Obama sent JSOC–under the guise of preparing the battlefield–rather than CIA. It sounds like the practice–first exploited by Cheney–that the government has used frequently in the last decade of ever-expanding Presidential authority.

Indeed, House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers’ claims he must authorize covert action, but hasn’t, sounds like the kind of complaint we’ve frequently gotten when the President bypassed the intelligence committees by claiming DOD was simply preparing the battlefield.

And Hosenball’s nuanced language about “boots,” that is, military, on the ground, may support that view.

Furthermore, we know there are a slew of British Special Forces on the ground in Libya. So why not Americans, too?

Hosenball is not saying this explicitly, yet. And he does refer to “CIA operatives” (who could be in Libya to simply collect information). But all the subtext of this article suggests that our special forces have been on the ground since before any Finding, which in turn suggests they may have been there longer than 2-3 weeks (the timeframe given for the Finding).

This is all a wildarsed overreading of Hosenball at this point. But if I’m right, then it would mean Obama would be using the shell game he adopted from Cheney to engage in war without Congressional oversight.

  1. orionATL says:

    and libyan bank accounts were frozen by the u.s., the u.n., and britain in late february, 2011.

    so we were making plans before we were making plans.

    i cannot yet get too outraged, and i worry about progressive lemmings running themselves off yet another cliff into the thin air supporting the hobgoblin of consistency.


    and maintaining

    credibility requires a certain amount of good judg4ement.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      I’m not too outraged either.
      Other than that a page out of Cheney’s playbook, given how disastrously he appears to have screwed up anything he touched, does give one pause.

      • orionATL says:

        re: cheney

        “how disastrously he screwed up everything he touched”.

        i could have sworn i wrote that phrase a couple or five years ago.

        if obama had cheney’s impulsivity, and dogged determination to get something he wanted, combined with his own (obama’s) intelligence and analytical ability, he would have been a president for the ages.

      • fritter says:

        I’d definitely wait until Palin does the same thing in Iran to be outraged. Intellectual consistency? Who needs it when the bad guys all have (R) next to their names..

  2. hotdog says:

    if obama had cheney’s impulsivity, and dogged determination to get something he wanted

    That’s funny, I’m pretty sure the MF’er is getting almost everything he wanted, or haven’t you noticed the swagger?

  3. mzchief says:

    But if I’m right, then it would mean Obama would be using the shell game he adopted from Cheney to engage in war without Congressional oversight.


  4. TarheelDem says:

    One thing to remember. Intelligence (CIA) officers are normal staffing of all embassies and most consulates. Use of these people still in country would not require a separate finding. And CIA does more than special operations; it’s main purpose is intelligence gathering.

    There is the presumption that the mission was “preparing the battlefield”. That presumption most likely is wrong.

    Contacts with opposition leaders can include political (diplomatic) and military discussions. And both can be conducted by any assigned State Department or CIA personnel (the Ambassador to Egypt was responsible for contacting opposition groups during the Egyptian revolution).

    I’m much more curious in the domestic media manipulation, office politics or partisan politics motives behind this leak. This is something that Hosenball doesn’t seem to touch. And Bob Baer has been all over the media going 007 on this slim bit of information.

    • NMvoiceofreason says:

      Also, JSOC personnel could be “tasked” to OGA (i.e. CIA) and thus both could be true – US special forces preparing the battlefield while only cia operatives were in the country. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

      • emptywheel says:

        Yeah, that’s sort of what I think happened.

        We know (as I noted in the post) that CIA can collect intelligence w/o a finding. And we know that JSOC people have been tied to such intelligence gathering efforts to go beyond that (and/or they’ve been tasked with things beyond what appear in a CIA finding).

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Not exactly. CIA staff are routinely posted to “stations” incorporated into US embassies and consulates. They engage in routine political and economic intelligence gathering and analysis, and they normally engage in relatively low-level of spying. The CIA ops we’re talking about here are large-scale para-military operations. That’s a horse of a different color.

      • TarheelDem says:

        And the evidence that what is going on in Libya is beyond routine intelligence gathering is what? An anonymous report of a Presidential finding, with no hint of mission? That seems pretty strange for real investigative journalism. Is “covert support” part of the leaked information or the reporter’s assumption? It is not clear.

        I see a lot of jumping to conclusions without much evidence here.

        And no real discussion of the domestic political intention of the leak itself. Media manipulation? Partisan politics? Policy disagreement? Office politics?

        And there is the possibility that this information could be used as pressure on the Gaddafi regime, which is probably too busy with other matters to be able to find out whether it is in fact true.

        Hosenball’s report is on such deep background “a US government official” as to render it meaningless. The Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee is a “US government official” and they are charging that they haven’t been consulted when they clearly were prior to the decision to engage.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          President’s don’t admit to such findings routinely. They rarely do. Being so obvious about engaging in what are routinely illegal ops under local applicable law tends to piss off host governments. Even when they know about them in fact, revealing them publicly tends to piss off at least their political opponents.

          Admitting it seems designed to give a much larger than normal force cover. It’s putting another bargaining chip on the table against Qaddafi. It’s telling him he’s at risk from more than remotely dropped bombs.

          It’s also establishing a baseline for a larger and more active presence in Libya. Each resource requires maintenance and support. An aircraft may fly with only one or two crew members; it takes dozens to get it in the air, keep it fueled, armed, maintained and utilized. So, too, with intelligence and spec ops on the ground.

      • NMvoiceofreason says:

        Except for NOC and “tasked assets”. Valerie Plame was a NOC. Special Forces (now JSOC) are routinely tasked as CIA assets. Neither NOC’s nor tasked assets are based at any station.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          True, covert spies and special forces operatives seconded to intelligence duties are not formally associated with an embassy or consulate. As the name, NOC, implies, “if caught, the secretary will disavow any knowledge” of their actions. But there’s a difference between “normal” peacetime ops and waging covert war, certainly in the midst of a civil war.

  5. tanbark says:

    The CIA has been a law unto itself for decades, now.

    Expecting any preznint who’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of corporate america (has there been any other kind, recently?) to put a leash on them, is ludicrous, on the face of it.

  6. tanbark says:

    Obama’s pulling out our planes:;_ylt=AhXxbviqsCJU7JUWNtbfMu7V.i8C;_ylu=X3oDMTJxYmlyaG1sBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTEwNDAxL3VzX3VzX2xpYnlhBGNjb2RlA3JkbmJlBGNwb3MDNARwb3MDNARzZWMDeW5fdG9wX3N0b3JpZXMEc2xrA3VzZW5kaW5naXRzYQ–

    Now that he’s avoided the bad publicity that would have attached to him from sitting on his ass while Ghadafy gins up a bloody pogrom, he can safely put his stamp of approval on yet another stalemate-to-be-resolved-later, instead of allowing a populist movement to succeed in Libya, which might imperil our access to the oil there. No such danger with Ghadafy; who’s always been willing to do bidness with Big Oil.

    He’s also quietening the shreiks from the chicken-littles on the left, and those from the erstwhile hawks on the right (interesting bed-partners, wot?) both groups of which are scared shitless that he might present them with a real “mission accomplished”.

    No danger of that now.

    • mzchief says:

      From “FBI spied on little kids for days at a time, documents reveal” (RawStory.Com, by Eric W. Dolan, Mar. 31, 2011):

      Among the heavily-redacted documents obtained by the EFF is a report [PDF] showing that the FBI monitored young children for five days, despite the fact that none of the voices being monitored matched the language of the target.

      Whoa there– what could have possibly justified this? Was there visual surveillance as well? I want to know and I want the EFF.Org to ferret that out because this just smacks of creepiness. Also, if the FBI used resources to “watch” children, that means they used the resources they could have been using to go after, say, mortgage foreclosure fraudsters and did not.

  7. clemenza says:

    The more I learn about Obama’s urge to suddenly go all humanitarian on a Muslim nation, the more I smell a rat. Like the entire Libyia thing has been manufactured to train thousands of “rebels” (mercenaries) to crush the anti government groups in Yemen. That’s the place of real worry for Obama and King Abdullah. Whatever happens in Lybia is the crap shoot to the real mission. Libyian oil will continue to flow.

    This is the way they go flat out on Yemen.

    Bush and Obama really screwed up there. They’ve both been absolutely brutal on innocent civilians. Drone massacres and cluster bombings killed hundreds. Like Pakistan, it’s Obama’s other secret.

    The people in Yemen have had it. Obama’s getting poised to annihilate them by claiming they’re AQ.

    Just a hunch.

  8. orionATL says:

    it’s important to keep in mind that the military part of the libyan (what shall we call it? “interdiction”, “intervention”,…) is just one part, the cudgel.

    what i suspect we have here is a cudgel and carrot approach to getting rid of qhaddafi.

    the carrot part involves aspects of diplomacy that i suspect will be decisive in getting the flea-bitten old mongrel out of libya and power.

    already we have seen two major figures in quadaffi’s circle leave the country.

    today’s nytimes reports one of quadaffi’s sons is talking with the british – and he’s probably not talking about foreign aid.

    i think worrying about the obama admin’s use of force in libya is likely myopic.

    my worry would be just how will north africa evolve with respect to modes of governing now that tunisia, egypt, and i suspect soon, libya are all put from under ancien regimes.

    will the unrest spread around cape verde?

    will the suicidal grip of the israelis on the palestinians and on middle-east peace be ended in time?

    syria and yemen are simmering.

    saudi arabia is a beached, rotted hulk with lots of oil and lots of armaments.

    this could be a very productive decade in north africa, in the eastern mediterranean, and in the oil swamp.

    it would not surprise me if pres obama and sec clinton, and their british allies (among others), were well aware of these possibilities and acting to realize them.